'Injection room' for heroin-users to take drug under medical supervision to open
Ireland is to open its first pilot project "fix room" for heroin-users to inject under medical supervision.
The location of the unit in Dublin city centre has yet to be decided but the Government decision signals a radical shift in drug policy and follows examples set in Switzerland, Sydney, Paris and Glasgow.
Proposed new laws will allow the Health Minister to issue a licence for a facility staffed by medics trained to deal with overdoses where users can access sterile needles and rooms to inject drugs they have brought with them.
It would effectively legalise possession of heroin in the unit, but it would still be illegal to sell or supply drugs inside or outside the facility.
Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne said the centre would be a "safe harbour" for chronic drug users.
"They will provide a controlled place for people to inject, but will be much more than that - a place to rest, have a chat and access the services people need," she said.
"I believe in a health-led and person-centred approach to the drug problem. For me, this is all about people and looking after the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society."
It is estimated that about 400 people inject on the streets of Dublin every month.
Discarded needles and drug paraphernalia and overdoses are a recognised problem as a result of street injecting, particularly in Dublin.
The Department of Health said injection rooms are particularly effective in reaching out to chaotic drug users and marginalised groups, especially those who use drugs on the streets or in other risky and unhygienic conditions.
It said the experience from 90 facilities around the world showed a reduction in fatal overdoses and transmission of blood-borne diseases, less drug-related litter and no increase in drug usage or drug-related crime.
Ms Byrne said: "The human cost of public injecting is clear and keeps adding up - the lack of dignity, the effect it has on people's health, wellbeing and safety. We know that these facilities are not the sole solution to the drugs problem and many other steps are needed, but I am committed to doing everything we can to help those who need it most."
Staff in the injection facility will be on hand to provide advice on treatment and rehabilitation.
Health chiefs have been asked to gather data and consider options before a final decision is made on the project.
Health Minister Simon Harris said: "I know people have concerns about where this first pilot facility will be located, but I want to assure you that no decisions have been made."
The Peter McVerry Trust, which works with homeless people and drug users, said the scheme would have an enormous positive impact on addicts and communities.
"It is only when people are accessing health supports and services that they can begin to address their needs, dealing with the issues and trauma that is often behind their drug use," the charity's chief executive Pat Doyle said.
Mr Doyle called for a rapid roll-out of the scheme to other cities.